SLO Water Politics vs. The Geopolitics of Food and Water`

August 26, 2013
Alex Alexiev

Alex Alexiev


On Aug. 27, SLO county supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill will try to push through an “emergency” ordinance to deal with the purported ground water depletion in the Paso Robles water basin. `According to existing statutes, to be able to pass such an urgency ordinance, its proponents have to prove the existence of a “current and immediate threat to the public health, safety or welfare.” Neither Gibson, nor Hill nor anybody else can prove such a threat at this point because we simply do not know how many wells have run dry. The county goes around this inconvenience by lying in claiming that the emergency is caused by the “sudden, unexpected failure of a large number of residential wells.” Yet of the many thousands of residential wells in the basin, the board has heard testimony of only 8 going dry and another 8 whose pumps had to be lowered. Hardly “a large number.” Nor are the documented well failures “sudden, unexpected.” We’re in the midst of a serious drought and though most of our aquifers are replenishable, it takes rain and/or snowpack to replenish them and we’ve had very little of either one for two years.

One would think that if the Gibson and Hill were really concerned about the water problem they would have ordered an empirical study of the problem an economic impact study of the ordinance and propose both short and long-term solutions. They have done none of that. The reason for that is because the water problems in North County are of no interest to them. What they want to do is use this ‘crisis’ to push their far left, anti-business and anti-property rights agenda, which they have been unable to achieve through normal legislative means. And make no mistake about it, the proposed ordinance is a direct, frontal assault on the most productive sectors of our North County economy; agriculture, the wine industry, the closely related tourist industry and the barely recovering real estate business. If implemented, the ordinance as it now stands will stop any further development in its tracks without doing much if anything to alleviate water shortages because the entire urban population is excluded. This is a cynical political ploy that must be exposed and defeated.

It is ironic that this assault on our most productive industries happens at the exact time when a tremendous geopolitical shift is taking place around the world and food is emerging as the strategic commodity of the future replacing oil and gas. And food production is an area in which the United States and California have a potential second to none. What is making food and therefore water, a premium commodity has nothing to do with the prattling of environmental extremists about global warming or expanding populations and everything to do with the success of the free enterprise system wherever it is allowed to function.

To put it simply, the tremendous economic performance over the past two decades have created a 200 million strong middle class in China and 50 million in India. And more is to come, the World Bank expects China to add another 300 million to the middle class by 2020 and India another 150 million in the same time frame. And the first thing middle class people do is they start to eat meat. China consumed 10 million tons of meat in 1980 vs 71 million tons today, twice the current U.S. consumption, soon to become three times larger. Unfortunately, for these booming countries, God has played a cruel joke on them and undersupplied them with water. China has 20% of the world’s population but only 6% of its water resources. India has 16% of the population but 4% of the water and the Arabs make 5% but have just 1% of the water. The result is critical water shortage, drying aquifers, desertification and conditions similar to our Dust Bowl in the 1930s. China alone is said to have lost 24,000 villages to the advancing Gobi Desert, while the World Bank is on record predicting that most major Indian cities will run dry by 2020.

Another highly predictable result is booming imports from countries that do not have water problems like America, Canada, Brazil and perhaps, sub-Saharan Africa before long. China is already the biggest importer of food in the world and the trend could only accelerate. The opportunities that this irreversible trend portends for our agriculture and food production are limitless, unless, of course, we allow Ludites like Messrs. Gibson and Hill to implement their destructive agenda. In just one example, the wine industry is one that the proposed ordinance will seriously damage or worse. Chinese traditionally do not drink wine, but their middle class does. In the four years between 2008 and 2012 China’s wine imports grew by 85%, yet their wine consumption is still only 2 bottles per person. What will happen when there are 300 million more wine-guzzling Chinese by 2020 is not difficult to predict. Our county stands a good chance to grab a major chunk of it.

None of this is to say that we should not think of both short and long-range solutions to our water problems. It maybe that there’s nothing three years of above average rain cannot solve. But we couldn’t count on that and prudent leaders should be thinking of long-term palliatives. I have heard neither Gibson nor Hill talk about the exciting new desalination technologies being discussed currently. Lockheed Martin has come up with a fabulous new material called graphene that provides superior filtration at 1% of the energy cost of the traditional reverse osmosis. The company has said that they’ll have a working prototype by the end of this year and start commercializing it in a year or two. Then there is Canada, which with 0.5% of the world population has 7% of the water resources. Isn’t it time we look seriously at something that has been discussed for decades.

I believe that there is nothing American ingenuity and the free market system cannot solve if allowed. It was only half a dozen years ago that the prophets of doom and gloom were telling us that we’ll all die or become paupers because of the dominant nonsense of the time about peak oil and gas. Today, we’re the largest producer of natural gas in the world and soon will be #1 in oil as well.

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Yesterday, San Luis Obispo got another free ride. With the passing of the BA Ordinance, the County of San Luis Obispo has placed new controls on Rural America. This ordinance ignores the affect that damming and re-directing the Salina River has had on the North County water supply. “It’s all about Control” said Gibson, and control he will. Let’s stop their future uses, let’s meter their wells and let’s have a pipline that does not affect me. Never mind the Lake they can’t swim in, the River that flows underground and a Ordinance that will not deliver one drop of water. Forge SLO Control, raise the Dam and secure a better future for,- – – not them.

One for Team Sewer.

A cynical ploy is right…by the largest land owners….

Groundwater recharge/groundwater storage has been raised as a possibility to fix the compromised Paso groundwater basin.

That option has only a few examples of success. And then there are the examples of epic failures of groundwater recharge/storage, like the Las Posas Basin Aquifer storage plan failure.

The Las Posas storage plan sounded good on paper, and on “technical memorandum” documents from high-priced engineer specialists and hydrologists who are all-too-willing to tell the decision-makers exactly what they want to hear. However, the reality was tragically the opposite.

In fact, it was a disaster, where not only $$$millions of taxpayer money was wasted, but the water stored in the Las Posas aquifer storage–purchased elsewhere at considerable cost to serve as a buffer for droughts–surprisingly quickly disappeared, as well.

Despite early evidence in test wells that there were drastic drops in GW levels when the anticipated required amounts of were withdrawn, the owner of the project went ahead with the project. Instead of relying on the direct evidence there would be problems if they went forward with the project, they relied on the reassurances of their hired specialists and contractors, many of whom benefited from constructing the project…who told them exactly what they wanted to hear: the project would be able to provide the groundwater they needed.

I bring this groundwater recharge/storage failure up because many of the Paso groundwater basin overdraft problems we are now experiencing can be traced back to hydrology reports from a county-favorite hydrology group, Fugro. The hydrology study done over a decade ago of the Paso groundwater basin, according to Fugro, showed practically unlimited water in the Paso GW basin.

Unfortunately, a peer review of Fugro’s work later strongly called into question Fugro’s findings, including using figures it extrapolated from a groundwater basin study done in 1933.

I believe the moral of this story is that the over-simplified versions of GW basins that specialists and politicians like to show us fool us into believing the GW basins are capable of feats which they are not capable of doing.

Before we embrace such happy-days-are-hear-again projects, we need to ask ourselves “Is this worth the risk of the entire Paso GW basin failing as a result of our attempts at an unproven project?”

The fact is that GW basins are not infinitely stable “bath-tubs” under the ground, but in many cases exist by a delicate balance of physical realities, including the amount of the demand and withdrawal of the groundwater stored in the basin. This delicate balance has been created by nature–based on the needs of the environment in which the GW basin exists–over millennia.

Such structures don’t react well when rapid changes occur, and aquifer failures have occurred because of the unwise actions of man.

Here is a small excerpt of the article.


(Las Posas Basin Aquifer Failure Illustrates Risks Of Underground Reservoirs,, Associated Press, published by many others across the political spectrum (

(Las Posas Basin Aquifer Failure Illustrates Risks Of Underground Reservoirs,, Associated Press, published by many others across the political spectrum (

…The Las Posas Basin Aquifer Storage and Recovery Project, about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles, illustrates the risks of what’s known as groundwater banking – warehousing water below ground in aquifers to pump out during dry spells or emergencies.

Imagine a bathtub beneath the earth. If geologic conditions are right, water can be added to such a basin, supplementing naturally occurring groundwater and creating a reserve for future use, much like a water tank.

But at Las Posas, water instead disappeared.

The project, now owned solely by wholesaler Calleguas Municipal Water District in Ventura County, promised to raise local groundwater levels up to 300 feet. Yet groundwater levels dropped steeply when the system went into operation, potentially threatening supplies for nearby residents, ranches and businesses that also draw water from the basin….

….An Associated Press review of government documents, along with dozens of interviews, found that the venture was marred by insufficient research, poor judgment and hollow assurances – all with a hefty price tag for ratepayers. The cost, estimated in 1995 at $47 million, has gradually tripled to about $150 million. More than $56 million in long-term debt remains.

Accurate post and supported by facts…WATER BANKING IS A BIG BUCKS farce! Similar to the Big Developer’s Darlings, Ludorff and Scalmanini the high paid Endineering

Firm … “Water Consultants” hired to re-write history to support un sustainable future development proposal in Rohnert Park in 2004.They advised that water could just be added and saved in an underground aquifer and they could simply save it or “bank it” for later… just like a savings account, a cup underground…All while neighboring ranchers wells and streams were running dry.

“The WSA’s critics beg to differ. As pointed out at the city council meeting by OWL chief scientist Steve Carle—a hydrologist for Lawrence Livermore Laboratories and a sixth-generation Penngrove landowner—the object of the draft WSA is to “reinvent local groundwater history” in order to support new development. Suspiciously, a region long thought to be in overdraft

was transformed by the draft WSA into an area where, as Carle put it, “water is gushing

out of the aquifer.”

SANTA MARGARITA RANCH AG CLUSTER ALL OVER AGAIN….Their sprawling Vineyards have already destroyed perennial creeks and over-drafted and polluted the “endless aquifer” underlying the Upper Salinas Water shed.

Money can buy anything …just ask them….

Alex, I am a Republican and a property rights advocate.

Unfortunately, you have not kept up with water problems in the state of California. You need to look at what is happening in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties with water and wineries. The picture is bleak, and the state and federal governments are involved in protecting the Russian River, salmon and the fishing industry, the recreation/tourist industry, and redwood forests are being clear cut to provide more land for vineyards. Then you only have to look at Fresno (Delta smelt and land poisoned by ag), and Bakersfield (Kern River rights and the Kern County Water Bank) to see that the County has to control the water or big government and water billionaires are going to control it.

Do you really want the California EPA, the UN inspired US EPA under the Clean Water Act, and the state of California to come in and tell us what we can do and not do with our own property.

County control is our only option besides allowing Big Wine to just destroy everything we have by pumping all the aquifer water. In that case, angry locals will ensure that the “paso robles appellation” for wine fails with nothing more than a sign in every car “Boycott Paso Wines” and T-shirts for all to wear downtown. We can get national press. Don’t expect people in the North County to go down quietly so that international trade can flourish.

Who cares about the few people who make money off wine and tourists. Paso Robles will never become a tourist destination because it doesn’t have the temperate weather needed. Paso is a drive through tourist attraction and can only be a “destination” when we have festivals. Do you realize that residents are sick to death of supporting these wine fests for hotels and restaurants to make money. We have sacrificed enough. Our schools are in disarray. Our taxes are up to pay for streets and roads. We pay for Nacimiento water and a new waste water plant because county users (67% are agricultural) have sucked up all the water from the aquifer.

Wine is not a necessary food. What would you say if we were talking about legal marijuana growers (farmers) and the water they were pumping from the aquifer?

What they want to do is use this ‘crisis’ to push their far left, anti-business and anti-property rights agenda, which they have been unable to achieve through normal legislative means. And make no mistake about it, the proposed ordinance is a direct, frontal assault on the most productive sectors of our North County economy; agriculture, the wine industry, the closely related tourist industry and the barely recovering real estate business. If implemented, the ordinance as it now stands will stop any further development in its tracks without doing much if anything to alleviate water shortages because the entire urban population is excluded. This is a cynical political ploy that must be exposed and defeated.”

Mr. Alexieve is more concerned with his think tank funding extreme right political agenda than solving local problems.-Put politics and partisan fearmongering away and take a deep breath-You are a spin doctor with an deep and powerful agenda…”a frontal assault” on the public trust rights and fish wildlife more like….why is it the biggest land owners that belioeve they deserve control of ALL the resourses? Just look at who funds Mr. Alexieve and you can track his interests…

The push for an “emergency” ordinance is all Gibson. Hill is Lenny to Gibson’s George.

I was thinking Lenny and Squiggy.

The number of poorly drawn and invalid inferences in Mr. Alexiev’s Opted are astounding.

Having only heard testimony from 8 well owners does not mean that other wells have not been lowered. There are other means of gathering data, e.g. well drilling permits.

Dropping well levels are in fact empirical data, as is the highly disproportionate use of water by grape Ag relative to municipal use. Emergency ordinances can be conducted in parallel with empirical studies, not necessarily as a pre-requisite: if we are up to our arses in Gators, a swamp draining study is not a necessity.

The statement that supervisors are far left, anti-business, etc. is not syllogistically derived from actions in response to a water crisis, is contradicted by other evidence, and is basically slanderous

It’s a fact that water in the PR aquifer is a finite resource because it is bounded. It’s also a fact that it can therefore be physically over drafted. If it’s also a fact that grape Ag has largely done that at this point, stopping further development is necessary, to everyone’s economic misfortune. However, the wine industry is strong now, at its present level. Stabilizing that level would not necessarily ruin the local wine economy. There is no logical reason for that to happen

The “entire urban population” consumes a fraction of the water; therefore their consumption does not greatly influence shortages. Embracing this concept is not indicative of cynicism.

Desalination is presently very expensive and we are a long ways from the coast. Just the technology is cost prohibitive to a cash strapped local gov’t, as much so the land to build it on and the pipelines to move it over mountains. LM’s Perforene material is not yet a product and will not be in time to solve this problem. Nothing is proven regarding its large scale applicability. It has its own technical issues, specifically as related to production and material transfer.

Canada will not just give us water, and the technological hurdles required to get Canadian water to Central California make Hoover Dam look like an erector set.

We are poised to become the largest producer of oil, and our natural gas is abundant and cheap, because of fracking, which is a suspect technology at best. This #1 position is predicted to be obtained in 2017, and lost in 2020 if new shale deposits are not found.

I will paraphrase Mr. Alexiev: “the wine guzzling Chinese” growing middle class has no water and can’t grow food, wine is food, and we owe it to ourselves to (ignore the water crisis) “grab a good chunk of that” money to be made off them ……….. Wine as was consumed by ancient societies was food, largely because water was often unpotable (from human pollution in congested areas), and because life was nasty, brutish, and short, and wine helped make that fact less obvious. This remained true in rural areas through modern times …….that particular wine was not mass produced by conglomerate wine manufacturers and did not use the majority of water available. The wines you see in the stores at <$20/bottle is delicious and a pleasure to drink, but is not strictly speaking food. China's economy at present (and as foreseeable), is as Alexiev noted, highly extractive, and as he did not note, unsustainable. China's middle class will meet the same fate as all unsustainable extraction based middle classes. (As a sidebar, note that Chinese wine making is millennia old. Its periodic scarcity during Dynastic times was attributable to taxation and state enforced morality. Its recent absence as a cultural icon is attributable to lingering effects of the Cultural Revolution)

This is not Mr. Alexiev's opinion, it's mine: My grandfather was a Blacksmith in downtown Paso Robles from 1905-1960. I love wine, and what the wine industry has done for the area. I do not want it to go away, I just want them and everyone else to understand it has practical limits of application. Further, it's my personal opinion that unfettered economic expansion is not a panacea, or a magic wand, and it's validity as a philosophy is not a priori knowledge. Sadly, there is abundant empirical data that it in fact can produce negative long term effects as an unplanned consequence, and to the point, it is not inviolate physical law that we can solve these unplanned problems.

He has think tank money abounding to fund his agenda…..

The push for an emergency ordinance is from the people in the North County who are affected, and all of us are affected (not just the County dwellers).

No, this is from Gibson who is not from the area, just like you. Check out his campaign literature. He is using the regional drought to divide. He is the antithesis of collaboration.

Here’s a clue. Groundwater basins belong to the public. People who own land over it may sink wells, but they do not own the groundwater basin.

So tread lightly on the Paso groundwater basin, because I am part of the public, and I am not pleased by the way the vineyards has used the basin like it is a cheap prostitute, defiling it and leaving it damaged.

Here is a clue check for you, if its gold, silver or water and it is under my land it is mine, not YOURS, period. And I will do with it as I want, without your permission, period.

Water is a resource necessary for life. Gold and silver are not.

In addition, gold and silver are materials with defined edges. Water does not have defined edges, but rather the edges of any body of water is defined on the more solid surface that surrounds it. Since there are no boundaries, you cannot define that the water you pump comes only from underneath your water.

THAT is why the water in water basins belongs to the public, and not individual land owners.

OKAY! I hear you loud and clear. So when you buy a piece of land, you should get an allotment of the water that is under it on the day you close escrow. Let’s say you buy a 1,000 acre vineyard, and we calculate that there is 10 million gallons under it. So, by your logic, when you’ve used up that 10 million gallons (probably about 6 months later) you have used all of YOUR water and now you get to stop pumping.

I’m good with that. Let’s pass it tomorrow.

As long as it plays out fairly for all on the watershed, I agree.

Extending your example, the one acre parcel gets 10,000 gallons, and then they’re done.

Who it’s really gonna suck for is the triplex on a 50X100′ lot.

Some days it is hardly worth getting out of bed in the morning.

If Robert1 truly believes his nonsensical assertion that water is just like gold and silver, then the large winery owners should be arrested for theft and thrown in prison. I can assure that they have pumped water out of their wells that started out under the parcels of the winery’s neighbors, therefore it is stolen water.

Someone call the Sheriff!

Our natural resources are not just for the current rapacious greedy current generation, including the vineyard owners.

Our natural resources are for ALL Americans: past, present and future generations.

To use our natural resources in an unsustainable manner sacrifices the future of our country. It is the most un-American mindset I can think of.

You are operating under a faulty premise that YOU OWN THE WATER and, thus, YOU CAN USE AS MUCH AS YOU WANT, even if it sacrifices the future of the Paso GW basin.

The Paso GW basin is not something to be rapaciously used up, leaving future generations with a befouled and bespoiled GW basin that can no longer store water for human use.

The Paso GW basin is part of our system of natural resources. Natural sources are for ALL people: past, present and future generations.

The mindset of someone like the greedy vineyard owners and their lackeys is one in which the theft of natural resources meant for future generations is advocated for the sole use of few rich enough to buy politicians crooked enough, and wells deep enough, to drain the Paso GW basin dry.

This approach to our natural resources are not American values. These are not even sane human values.

Check on your mineral rights, Robert1, before you make that statement. Most land sold today does not include the mineral rights.

That is where you are WRONG Robbie

I am from the area. I live on the Eastern edge of Paso, and Paso Robles gets it water from the Paso groundwater basin. Even when the city can use Nacimiento water (when the new waste water plant is completed), it will have to be mixed with water from the Paso city wells on a half and half basis.

You think Gibson is to blame for the aquifer overdraft? Did he slant well drill from Cayucos into the Paso Water Basin and cause the water to disappear for his 10 acre orange grove?

Who wrote the procedure for an aquifer emergency; it was Frank Mecham. Who is following the procedure–Gibson and Hill. The blame it on Gibson ploy doesn’t work here.

Gibson is “following the procedure?” Give me a break–there is no “procedure” here. If there was, there would be no tension with the sups from the north. Gibson is following his own interests. You are fool enough to follow him. Acting like you know what you’re talking about and really knowing it are two different things. Stop acting.

Maybe you should start “acting” like you know something. All you do is attack Gibson and Hill. In this case, Gibson and Hill are on our side–protecting the North County aquifer.

Please, don’t try to engage in your “did not!” “did so!” idiocy. Gibson would like nothing more than to distract from his own shortcomings. Hill would like nothing more than to come off as something other than the short fuse he is. If Hill and Gibson have this grand vision for the north county, where were they in the first year of this drought? Let me answer that: Hill lost votes to chair two different boards because of his belligerence caught on record, and Gibson was trying to cover up his affair w/ his staffer and make sure she still pulled down a county paycheck. They are not county visionaries; Gibson is an illusionist, and Hill is his hairy-legged assistant.

Whether or not Gibson and Hill would like to gain political brownie points from this issue is immaterial.

The issue is the sustainability of the Paso GW basin, something that belongs to all members of the public, not just the precious few who can afford to buy politicians, and afford to sink deep enough wells, to drain the GW basin dry.

The Paso GW basin must be used in a sustainable manner so that future Americans can also use it as one of our natural resources.

Alexiev brings up the incontrovertible point that SIXTY THOUSAND local North County water users will NOT be affected by any version of the proposed ordinance.

In this light, it makes more sense that Gibson and Hill are pandering to the masses and selling out the rural minority.

For once, Gibson and Hill are on the right side of this problem. Remember, Mecham helped write the emergency procedure. The people not affected by the County ordinance are the people in the cities and we have been affected by the aquifer shortage, and in Paso we are on water restrictions.

If you think this is all about Gibson and Hill, then join Dr. Frankel’s star gazers. Gibson and Hill did not do the studies. The facts are before you, and you don’t want to believe them. We have a problem with the overdraft of the aquifer.

Even a doofus, like Adam Hill, is occasionally correct.

Don’t try and sugar coat the fact that the wineries produce a recreational drug and not food moron.

What’s a food moron?

Someone who buys carrots for $4/lb at New Frontiers ???

Here’s a trivia bit of information about carrots.

For decades, the common “knowledge” has been that it is more healthy for you to not peel carrots before you eat them.

However, this is actually based on ignorance of how carrots grow.

When the root of the carrot is in the ground, it sends smaller roots to bring in water and nutrients. Some of these nutrients are heavy metals. The heavy metals enter the rootlets but do not pass beyone the skin of the major large carrot root that we eat.

So, if you have bought the myth that leaving the skin on the carrot you eat is more healthy, then you might want to rethink that.


Correction: “beyone” should be “beyond.”

Oh, I also think that your opinion piece is wrong by both minimizing the extent of the overdraft problem and over-stating its economic effect on the wine industry as a whole.

Correction: “overstating the proposed action’s economic effect”

“I believe that there is nothing American ingenuity and the free market system cannot solve if allowed.”

There stands the problem. While American ingenuity is a positive trait and the free market system has some good points, neither are flawless and the “free market system” advocates often deny that there are common resources that should be equally available to all people such as access to clean air and water (where such is available). This is where I part with Libertarians and other “free enterprise” purists — as you seem to be.

Ground water is a common resource in my view and it has definitely become a problem as far as both abundance and access. Had these problems been researched and addressed many years ago, we might have had the time to develop and implement a fair and reasonable solution. We ignored the problem for too long (willful ignorance? short-term greed?) and must now slam on the brakes to avoid a possible major crash down the line. Once the immediate danger is addressed, we can take the time to look at long-term solutions. But that danger must be addressed first.

Quoting the op-ed, quoted in OntheOtherHand’s post:

“I believe that there is nothing American ingenuity and the free market system cannot solve if allowed.”

Like the price of gasoline at the pumps?